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Primary Education News
News Are language teachers leading the way with education technology?
From vibrant communities on social media to inventive lessons using video conferencing, Joe Dale explores how languages teachers have embraced technology in the classroom
As more and more schools invest in mobile technologies, such as iPads, a common question on language fora is "can anyone recommend a good list of apps for language learning?"
My typical response is to suggest a range of generic apps for creating multimedia content (audio, video, animation, ebooks, cartoons and so on) which promote productive skills of speaking and writing, higher-order thinking and that allow pupils to publish the results to a real audience.
Researching good apps and web tools takes time and keeping up to date with the latest innovations in educational technology is not a priority for some. For others, using authentic materials or web tools is an essential part of their practice to make their lessons as relevant and pedagogically purposeful as possible.
The 'MFLtwitterati' – a grassroots community of UK-based modern foreign language teachers on Twitter – has proved to be an invaluable testbed for ideas on using new technologies. Over time the group has developed a strong ethos of sharing innovative classroom practice, encouraging each other to experiment and feedback their findings for further discussion and reflection.
The use of social media has allowed colleagues to get to know each other as real people not just teachers and this has strengthened the sense of cohesion, solidarity and collective confidence. The reach of the MFLtwitterati goes far further than the UK, though. For example, the hashtag #mfltwitterati is now being used by language teachers all over the world and the MFL Twitterers list has more than 770 subscribers (at the time of writing). This begs the question are MFL teachers the ultimate innovators with education technology?
Gauging the influence of an online community or to claim one group is better than another is at best problematic and at worst divisive. That said, based purely on anecdotal evidence and gut instinct, I would suggest that the MFLtwitterati is in fact leading the way as a subject-specific group promoting the use of technology, not only online but also face-to-face at conferences and networking events such as Teachmeets.
Successful ideas include the free daily e-magazine MFL Times (automatically generated from the tweets of the followers of the account @mfltimes), the collaborative Dropboxes (organised by language and managed by their invited contributors) and the legendary ICT and Languages Conferences (ILILC) at the University of Southampton.
The more interesting question is: how well is technology suited to MFL? Well, one of the fundamentals of language learning is real communication and new technologies can certainly facilitate this essential aspect through, for example, videoconferencing and blogging. There are also lots of ways of recording and editing audio as a method of improving pronunciation, boosting learner confidence, extending speaking skills and deepening understanding. Filmmaking and animation also draw on a variety of useful skills and promote creativity, collaboration and personalised learning.
Teacher-produced audio or video podcasts are useful for encouraging autonomy and distance learning outside of the classroom where students are able to revise at a time which suits them. Moreover, the more pupils regularly access resources independently, the more opportunity they give themselves to master new skills and develop their learning further.
There are a plethora of possibilities for enhancing language learning with technology as there are colleagues willing to help from language fora and social media. The stumbling block for many is not having the time to seek out new tools and become familiar with them, as well as the fear of relinquishing control to their pupils who may be more techno-savvy than they are.
In recent reports – such as 2011's Modern languages: achievement and challenge report and grading guidelines released in March of this year – Ofsted has made it clear that it is looking for the use of new technologies in language lessons, and has provided examples of what good or outstanding departments used to achieve this.
The issue now is the widening gap between those who pro-actively use technology to promote creativity and collaboration, and those who only tick the ICT box with the same old 'drill and kill' websites (that focus on excessive repetition of simple, isolated skills) and MS Office. Technology is not going away and language teachers need to embrace its full potential to engage our 21st century learners.